Health insurance exchanges a bipartisan affair in RIApril 1st, 2011 at 9:18 am by Ted Nesi under General Talk, Nesi's Notes
The Providence Journal’s great medical writer, Felice Freyer, has been diligently tracking Rhode Island’s initial steps toward creating a health insurance exchange as part of President Obama’s health reform law.
The exchange will be a regulated Web-based marketplace where consumers without health coverage can compare and choose between different insurance plans. The idea is modeled on the Massachusetts Health Connector created by Gov. Mitt Romney and the legislature there as part of its universal coverage law.
A Senate bill to establish Rhode Island’s exchange passed a Senate committee unanimously on Wednesday, Freyer reported:
The unanimity extended to the people who packed the hearing room of the Health and Human Services Committee, all of whom said they supported the bill. Many decided not to speak at all, asking chairwoman Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence, to merely read out their names as supporters. Supporters included health insurers, hospitals, advocates and providers. …
Christopher F. Koller, state health insurance commissioner, urged quick action. The state could be in line for “tens of millions” of federal dollars for planning, he said, but only if the bill is signed into law and its governing board seated before the legislative session ends this spring or summer. …
Sponsored by Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, the legislation would merely establish the governance structure for the exchange. It says nothing about how the exchange will work. Instead, the exchange’s governing board will hammer that out and make a recommendation to the General Assembly next year.
I checked in with Freyer on Twitter, and she reiterated that no one expressed opposition to creation of the exchange at Wednesday’s hearing
, but one of the bill’s co-sponsors is a Republican: Sen. Beth Moura, R-Cumberland.
[Update: My error - Freyer did not say Sen. Moura was a co-sponsor, as I now see I implied; an e-mail correspondent working on the legislation told me that. Freyer corrects me that Moura is not a co-sponsor. My apologies.
The General Assembly's website does list a Republican co-sponsor, though: Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly. And Moura did vote in favor of the bill in committee - so the exchange remains a bipartisan issue here.]
The situation in Rhode Island presents a stark contrast to the partisan battles being waged in other states over the exchanges, where Tea Party activists are moving to block their implementation – despite the fact that the federal government will do it if the states do not, as Politico reported this week:
In South Carolina, tea party activists have been picking off Republican co-sponsors of a health exchange bill, getting even the committee chairman who would oversee the bill to turn against it.
A Montana legislator who ran on a tea party platform has successfully blocked multiple health exchange bills, persuading his colleagues to instead move forward with legislation that would specifically bar the state from setting up a marketplace.
And in Georgia, tea party protests forced Gov. Nathan Deal to shelve exchange legislation that the Legislature had worked on for months.
The moves have buoyed some health reform opponents, who contend that states cannot both challenge the law while laying its foundation.
Moreover, the protests underscore a widening rift within the Republican party, between those who say states should implement the law, retaining more power as it moves forward, and others who favor completely opting out of a law they because they believe it to be unconstitutional. Critics say that strategy runs the risk of turning control over to the feds.
Update #2: Speaking of health care, a programming note – Tufts Health Plan CEO Jim Roosevelt will be Tim White’s guest on the first half of WPRI 12′s “Newsmakers” this week. (The second half will be a political roundtable with Tim, WRNI’s Ian Donnis, Arlene Violet and yours truly.) The show will be posted online later today and air on Fox Providence at 10 a.m. Sunday.
(photo: Chuck Kennedy/The White House, via Flickr)